What smells fishy?

Must-reads: John Ivison on abandoning Senate reform; Don Martin on embracing deficits; Jonathan Kay on the Bush legacy; Vaughn Palmer on the B.C. budget.

Must-reads: John Ivison on abandoning Senate reform; Don Martin on embracing deficits; Jonathan Kay on the Bush legacy; Vaughn Palmer on the B.C. budget.

The federal miscellany
Deficits, unelected senators, anti-Semites, etc.

The Toronto Star’s James Travers fingers the “brainy, focused and tough” Kevin Lynch, clerk of the Privy Council, as a good candidate to replace Michael Wilson as ambassador to Washington. But he notes there are “flies in this ointment.” One fly: “renewing the civil service, the Sisyphean task that drew Lynch home [from a position at the IMF], remains a work in progress.” (Indeed, being a Sisyphean task, it could hardly be anything but “in progress.” But we really must stop parsing Travers’ metaphors so closely; it leads only to heartache.) Two flies: Lynch led the “usefully inconclusive investigation” into the NAFTA disasta, which is ostensibly why Wilson has to leave in the first place. And three flies: successor boulder-pushers at the PCO “are in short, surprisingly reluctant, supply.”

The Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson + fisheries quotas = barnburner! We kid. It’s a very sober and actually fairly interesting look at the benefits of switching from the “common property resource fishery” model—in which “the government establishes an elaborate system of allocations to fishermen and companies, all under the watchful (?) eye of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans”—to one in which “fishermen, communities, co-operatives or companies” are directly given “ownership rights to certain amounts of fish.” It’s better suited to sustainable fishing, we learn, because it takes politics largely out of the equation in establishing quotas. As it stands, “since people speak, and fish are silent, the minister usually heeds people/constituents and opens fisheries that should remain closed or raises allocations that should remain low.”

The Calgary Herald’s Don Martin isn’t willing to turn the page on Stephen Harper’s altogether extraordinary about-face on deficits and recessions, and good for him. Because only two scenarios explain how it is that “Harper was elected on a firm promise to deliver balanced-budget, fiscally-prudent government less than 50 days ago”: one, he “fibbed” about the strength of the economy and of the surplus; or two, “he simply failed to see the bad times coming, even with hundreds of fiscal gurus on the payroll and Canada’s best economists on call.” Neither augurs well for our politics or for our pocketbooks. And in any event, as Martin says, it’s now “clear nobody should ever again believe anything anyone says during the heat of an election campaign.”

While he’s embracing deficits, Harper may as well start appointing senators. Things can’t get much more bizarre, as John Ivison observes in the National Post. And there’s no way the government would be able to push through a Senate reform package—term limits, consultative elections, etc.—before all the vacant seats threatened to compromise its own legislative agenda. After all, Ivison observes, “to be an ‘unelected Liberal senator’ to most Conservatives is to belong to an eventide home of political eunuchs, who vent their frustrations by blocking the legitimate work of the House of Commons.” Addressing the problem by stacking the Upper Chamber with Tories, rather than reforming or abolishing the institution, will be difficult for many Canadians to swallow, Ivison predicts. “But it offers yet more confirmation for the adage that governing is the art of the possible—and that in Canada not much is possible.”

Hey, don’t you hate banks? Yeah, Sun Media’s Greg Weston agrees with you. Banks are horrible. They complain about record-low profits that are still 10 figures per quarter, they only pass on a fraction of interest rate cuts to consumers, and now the government’s giving them money to screw us even more! Booooo, banks!

The Toronto Sun’s Peter Worthington thinks we should give David Ahenakew his Order of Canada back, and Allan Eagleson’s while we’re at it, lest the award be reduced to the status of a “purely political pawn, to be awarded or revoked at the whim of whichever government is in power.” Interesting argument. Unfortunately, he has to spend most of the column updating us on Ahenakew’s legal troubles, in a vain attempt to make said argument seem current.

Provincial affairs
The Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer observes B.C. finance minister Colin Hansen trying to deal with plummeting government revenue outlooks and, more recently, a significant projected slowdown in the provincial economy, and is not overly impressed. The minister was quite specific about what he wouldn’t do about it, Palmer observes. “Deficits? No. Layoffs? He doesn’t anticipate them. Cuts in pay for the public service? No rollbacks. Cuts in health, education and social services? The Liberals will protect those. Olympic venues? Those dollars are already spent.” So what will he do? Well, he’s willing to cut travel and administration expenses. Problem is, “no less a figure than Premier Gordon Campbell scoffed at such easy outs in a recent scrum.”

Still in the Sun, Barbara Yaffe updates us on Alberta’s efforts to soften the oilsands’ image elsewhere in Canada and in Washington, and to convince us that “every Canadian has a stake in this.” For example, the Alberta Enterprise Group will have us know that “the oilsands account for less than a tenth of one per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions,” which is “equivalent to half of what’s put out by Hong Kong.” This strikes us as a very strange point of comparison.

The Globe’s Murray Campbell explores what may be the least interesting angle conceivable to Ontario’s proposed new restrictions on young drivers—most notably on the number of young, unrelated passengers they may carry—which is that outraged teenagers have taken their complaints to Facebook. You could have knocked us over with a feather. In the process, he actually lets transport minister Jim Bradley get away with suggesting the arguments against the legislation—which is itself based on nothing but irrelevant statistics and a wealthy man’s tears—aren’t particularly intelligent.

To those planning to pay no attention to tonight’s Quebec leaders’ debate, the Montreal Gazette’s Don Macpherson has a simple message: things have gotten really interesting all of a sudden for Jean Charest. First there was the latest round of intrigue from the Caisse de dépôt; then “the Liberals released the financial framework for their campaign promises, which was based on optimistic economic assumptions that contradicted Charest’s claim that the province is heading into an economic ‘storm,’ and therefore needs political stability”; and now, Le Journal de Montréal has revealed the finance minister “greatly overestimated the value of private investment projects in Quebec in the economic and financial update she released the day before the election was called.” Intrigue! Excitement! Who are you to deny it?

You’ve changed, Obama
Andrew Cohen
, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, argues Hillary Clinton was the wrong choice as secretary of state, and declares himself mystified that she’d accept the job. It’s a mistake for Obama, he argues, because she’s unqualified—or at least, less qualified than a whole bunch of other candidates. And for Clinton herself, he suggests, it’s an abandonment of all she might have done in the Senate. “She might have become the champion of health care (redressing her mishandling of the file in 1993), the green economy and a multilateral foreign policy,” Cohen laments.

“Mr. Obama and the Netroots continue to gaze at each other with honeymoon eyes,” the Globe’s John Ibbitson observes, which is somewhat surprising given that he’s already making pragmatic noises about letting tax cuts on the richest Americans expire, rather than repealing them, and that having “vowed to break up Washington’s old boys’ club,” he’s filling his cabinet with “hands so inside Washington’s ways that they could get jobs as tour guides.”

The Post’s Jonathan Kay assesses George W. Bush’s legacy and concludes that while the glaring mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq were those of “execution”—i.e., that the endeavours themselves were “morally defensible”—there is no redeeming “Bush’s arrogant evisceration of the English-speaking world’s proud tradition of due process—a project that was done consciously and deliberately with a perfect understanding of the consequences.” Long after Guantanamo closes, he says “that fact will forever stain the man’s legacy.”